‘Euphoria’ Encapsulates the Gen Z Experience

As part of GenZine & TV Wasteland’s partnership, we’re publishing their latest review on the hit teen series ‘Euphoria’, written by Sara Kelly.

At first glance, Euphoria might seem like a hip, new show about sex and drugs, with heart-pumping music and kaleidoscopic visuals. But anyone who was born in the late 1990s or after can see that Euphoria was made with poignant intentionality in its portrayal of what it’s like to be a young person in one of the most rapidly changing and uniquely complex times. The dramatic HBO series released last summer was the first of its kind to address topics such as sexuality, gender identity, toxic masculinity, and more, all through the lens of the Gen Z experience. 

At the center of Euphoria reside two main characters, Rue and Jules, and the inner workings of how they collide in a complicated yet beautiful love affair. Although Rue is a female and Jules is a trans woman, neither Rue’s nor Jule’s sexuality is discussed or defined as a part of their story lines. There is discussion of Rue’s development of crippling anxiety and drug addiction, Jule’s journey of transitioning, but no scene of Rue discovering her lesbianism or Jules coming out to her parents. In fact, it is never even made clear if Rue and Jules are lesbian, bisexual, or where exactly they fall on the spectrum of sexuality. However, this is not a piece of the narrative that the writer forgot to include. It is left out intentionally to represent the point of view that goes against the common societal mindset of categorizing everything and everyone into gay, straight, male, female, and so on. Sexuality does not need to be defined, nor does it need to be made an issue. The way in which Rue’s and Jule’s relationship is portrayed in Euphoria reflects the new and emerging mindset of Gen Z’ers that is breaking down the lines between a strict gender binary and dissolving the categorization of sexuality altogether. 

Similar to the representation of sexuality in Euphoria, trans representation, although very much present, intentionally remains in the background of Jules’s characterization. Jules is neither tokenized nor ostracized by her peers for being trans. When she is introduced to the viewer, she’s either introduced as “the new girl” or “Jules”. Her trans identity is not even mentioned in her introduction to the show, nor is it discussed by her peers, but rather is only discussed within her own personal flashback narrated by Rue in episode four. In no way is she made to seem different or other. This approach, again, represents the attitude that is becoming more and more prevalent among Gen Z. Race, gender, sexuality – these were all characteristics that were once portrayed in cinema as vehicles of categorization, allowing us to be divided and to discriminate against one another in our real lives. However, Euphoria embraces the view that race, gender, and sexuality are inconsequential. Unfortunately, this is not how the trans community is treated in real life. And although this attitude is not unanimous among Gen Z or any other generation, cinematic representations, such as Jules’ identity, create room for these attitudes to grow. Euphoria, as does all cinema, both reflects what exists, and sets a precedent for the future. 

Outside of the Rue and Jules realm, Euphoria shows how although freedom and acceptance exists within the emerging Gen Z population, Gen Z’ers are not immune to the attitudes of generations before them. Nate, the 6’5 captain of the football team, suffers a deep internal battle with his sexuality and identity because of pressures from his father. As a result, he completely denies his interest in men and overcompensates by inflaming his masculinity to a degree that harms both himself and those close to him. He perpetuates misogynistic language amongst his friends, constantly talking about “getting pussy”, calling girls “whores” and “sluts”, and much, much worse things that I won’t get into in case my mother ever comes across this article. Nate’s character shows that toxic masculinity still very much exists within Gen Z culture, the cause often originating from our elders rather than our peers. 

The storylines portrayed in Euphoria are pertinent to the Gen Z experience, indeed, but would be nothing without the visual and musical genius that is debatably what the show is most known for. If you even peaked your head out the door on Halloween last year, you saw at least one girl with glitter eye makeup on claiming to be a character from Euphoria. The show is no longer just a show; it is a style, a brand. The surreal editing that takes you in and out of reality, ecstasy-like costume design that makes you feel like you’re at a never-ending music festival, coupled with a soundtrack by Labrinth featuring songs like “Still Don’t Know My Name” or “Forever” that you can feel pounding in your literal soul – the plot lines are timely, but the cinematic execution of the story is unbeatable. It’s my opinion that the aesthetic of Euphoria is central to drawing Gen Zer’s into the show, and the content actually comes second. We are a visual generation, constantly entertained by our phone or laptop screens and unlikely to read the news (or anything) if it’s in article form. Given how much content we take in on a daily basis, it takes a lot to grab our attention. Our tolerance for subpar cinematography is at an all-time low. It is only fitting that a show made for and about Gen Z would be of the top caliber in visual and audible pleasure. 

Euphoria has become a time capsule of Gen Z, preserving the unique conditions under which we live, the emerging mindsets that grow with us as a result, and how these themes are communicated through art. And if you were born sometime after the late 1990s and have actually read through this entire article to this point, consider yourself at the genetic apex of Generation Z. 

For more on ‘Euphoria’, you can read our interview with HBO executive Kathleen McCaffrey here.

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